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How to look after your mental health as a nurse

Nurses are under pressure. A new survey by the Nursing Times reveals the negative impact the coronavirus is having on the mental health of nurses. Nine in ten nurses are feeling more stressed and anxious than usual. A third of 3,500 respondents said their mental health was 'bad' or 'very bad' - their largest concerns were around the lack of PPE, contracting the virus themselves, and the health of family and friends.

We are all worried about the situation around coronavirus and how it might affect our lives. It's not just a crisis in physical health, but in mental health too. Amidst all this, nurses and other key workers are still going to work when the rest of the country has shut down, and are working directly with the risks that everyone else is being told to avoid.



What we're doing

At Mind, we have partnered with other leading mental health charities for the first time to provide round the clock support for those, like yourself, working against the coronavirus. Our Frontline is a combination of 1-2-1 support and online resources for frontline workers to make sure you're putting your mental health first.

What you can do to support yourself

When your work is focused on caring for someone else, it's important to remember to look after yourself. That includes recognising how the pandemic might affect your mental health.

A certain amount of pressure at work can be good, helping us to perform and to feel energised and ready to meet new challenges. But being under intense pressure for too long can lead to stress. Keep a look out: you might start to feel more irritable, wound up, depressed or like your thoughts are racing and you can't switch off.

The period we're in is unique, but that just makes it more important to pay attention to how you're doing. Here are some tips for looking after yourself in work:

1. Take some time before your shift.

Mentally prepare by working through a readiness checklist. This could include the following:

  • Challenging negative thoughts and assumptions about what the day might bring. Imagining the worst will fuel any anxiety.

  • Taking six deep breaths, to slow your heart rate and put your body into a calm, ready state.

  • Purposefully leaving worries behind. Write them down, say them or shut them in your locker.

If you enjoy mindfulness or relaxation exercises, this might be a good time to do them.


2. Take your breaks

Sometimes it's tempting to work right through and get the job done, especially in this environment of increased pressure. But taking a break is important and can allow you to rest and recuperate, even for just a little while. Don't feel guilty – it's not a luxury but there for patients' safety as well as yours.


3. Check in with your mind and your colleagues

Make a point of regularly pausing to focus on how you're all doing. You could complete a wellness action plan (WAP) and encourage your team to do the same, or look at How are you feeling today, NHS? for a quick way to discuss how the day's going.

4. Look after your body during your shift

The measures you need to take to keep yourself and your patients safe and protected are probably forefront in your mind at the moment. But don't neglect other aspects of your physical health too.

For example, it's not always practical or easy to eat well. However, prepping meals and healthy snacks before shifts or at the beginning of a work week can help us eat well, feel energised and get the correct nutrients for a taxing shift. It's just as important to stay hydrated before, during, and after shifts. When you do manage to get breaks, try to catch up a bit on sleep where you can.


5.Think about your work/life balance

Working long shifts in such a challenging and fast-paced environment can leave you exhausted. Perhaps you're also trying to shop during supermarket priority hours. This all makes it more important than ever to take care of yourself by doing something you enjoy sometimes too.

Home life has transformed for most of us. Think about ways to take some time for yourself in this new environment. Build in opportunities to do things that relax you and make time to stay in contact with those you care about.

6. Leave work at work

The fact is, shifts are likely to be tough, and traumatic experiences do happen, perhaps especially at times like this. Having a 'going home checklist' that you do before you leave the building can help you switch from work to home mode. You could do the following:

  • Take a moment to think about the shift.

    • Acknowledge three things that were difficult. Take any learning that is needed, then let them go.

    • Consider three things that went well.

  • Choose an action that signals the end of your shift. Something as easy as doing the same action when clocking out.

  • Now switch your attention to home. Think about how you're now going to rest and recharge.

More support

These tips may not be for you, and as things change, what works now might not work next week. You might look into the wellbeing apps that are now free to NHS staff, or the RCN counselling service. There are more ideas on Mental Health at Work. If you're in need of mental health support now please visit Our Frontline or text the helpline on 85258. Take care of yourselves and thank you for all that you are doing.

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